Art Gallery of Alberta

Lecture: Negative Cosmopolitanisms

Other Mediations: Eur/Asian Vernacular Cosmopolitanisms

With Sneja Gunew
Thursday, October 11, 7:00 pm
Ledcor Theatre, Art Gallery of Alberta
$15 / $10 AGA Members
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Postcolonial theory has helped us understand the ways in which imperial cultures have claimed a version of cosmopolitanism as intrinsic to their civilizing missions. While consideration of the treatment of indigenous groups and the history of slavery have enabled a consistent critique of such claims, less attention has been paid to the ways in which other groups have been positioned in these dynamics, particularly in the settler colonies. The term ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’ acknowledges the global interdependence that is a feature of the new debates in cosmopolitanism at the same time that it recognizes that these are always rooted in and permeated by local concerns that include minority groups competing within the nation-a complex politics. This paper examines the ways in which the European archive is increasingly shown to constitute an ‘interested’ universalism by artists who are positioned between Europe and Asia specifically, in relation to ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’. The oxymoronic nature of the phrase reflects the double movement of these debates: in Homi Bhabha’s coinage of the term, the vernacular ‘native’ or ‘domestic’ is always in a dialogic relation with the global-cosmopolitan “action at a distance.” I explore this dynamic by focusing on the discrepant meanings of ‘Asian’ and associated terms such as ‘Eur/Asian’. My argument in the more extended study is that terms such as ‘European,’ the ‘West,’ and ‘Asian’ need to be unpacked so that they can no longer be invoked as self-evidently heuristic categories in post-multicultural debates such as those associated with neo-cosmopolitanism. In this paper I will draw on the work of several diasporic ‘Eur/Asian’ artists: Kyo Maclear, Fiona Tan and Anne Marie Fleming.

Sneja Gunew is Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada. She has taught in England, Australia and Canada and published widely on multicultural, postcolonial and feminist critical theory. She was Director of the Centre for Research in Women’s and Gender Studies (2002-7) and North American editor of Feminist Theory (Sage) 2006-10. She was Associate Principal of the College for Interdisciplinary Studies, UBC, 2008-11. She has edited and co-edited four anthologies of Australian women’s and multicultural writings: Feminist Knowledge: Critique and Construct; A Reader in Feminist Knowledge (Routledge 1990-91); A Bibliography of Australian Multicultural Writers; and Striking Chords: Multicultural Literary Interpretations (1992). Her books include Framing Marginality: Multicultural Literary Studies (1994) and Haunted Nations: The Colonial Dimensions of Multiculturalisms (Routledge 2004). Based in Canada since 1993, her current work is in comparative multiculturalism and in diasporic literatures and their intersections with national and global cultural formations.

This lecture is presented by the University of Alberta’s Negative Cosmopolitanisms Conference in partnership with the Art Gallery of Alberta.